No local group has been more effective at reawakening ethnic pride than Polish Youngstown.
The organization, spearheaded by Aundrea Cika Hesch-myer, has rallied younger Polish-Americans with a stream of events such as Polish Happy Hour, which features beer and vodka imported from the old country. Cika says it had to be done, because the culture was fading among the younger generation, and with it would go the heritage that unites Polish-Americans.
One annual highlight of the PY calendar is Polish Day, which is each summer. It’s a typical ethnic festival with pirogies, folk dancing and polka music. But it also has a strong element of education, with workshops in Polish customs.
It was at last year’s Polish Day celebration that Baltimore-based polka band leader Mike Matousek noticed PY’s work.
He was so inspired by the organization’s revitalization of the Polish community that he wrote a song.
“The Polish Youngstown Polka” is available on CDBaby.com, and will soon be on other digital song-sellers, including iTunes.
Matousek, a Polka Hall of Famer, said it pains him to see ethnic traditions and institutions slipping away. But Polish Youngstown, he said, is turning the tide in the Youngstown area.
Polish Day 2011 will be Aug. 28 at St. Anne’s Church, 4310 Kirk Road, Austintown. Matousek and his band, The Boys, will not be there this year, but they will be at Kuzman’s in Girard on Oct. 2. Matousek said the band will play “Polish Youngstown Polka” then.
Heschmyer helped Matousek with the lyrics to the song, filling in details about local Polish institutions, such as the now-defunct Krakusy Hall on South Avenue and the polka festivals at Idora Park.
Matousek also wrote another set of lyrics for the tune to give it broader appeal. The other version, called “In My Old Polish Town,” will be included on The Boys’ next album.
Matousek said he was struck by the attitude of the Polish Youngstown volunteers at last year’s Polish Day. “Despite the large crowd, including the endless line to get authentic Polish food, the staff worked diligently and remained positive,” he said. “I also sensed a genuine pride of culture across the board, from the Polish folk dancers to the jewelry vendors. ... Everything contributed to an overall atmosphere of ‘belonging,’ or being part of something bigger, nobler, than you normally experience.”
Here are lyrics to “Polish Youngstown Polka”:
So they closed Krakusy Hall, and the Polish clubs are gone, And our children wonder why we feel such loss. The places that we knew have become so far and few, One can only wonder at what cost
The picnics in the summer made us feel like we belonged Remember how we loved Idora Park? These things have come and gone But something new has come along Here’s your chance to make a brand-new start
(chorus) With Polish Youngstown, yes Polish Youngstown. Where Polish pride is felt, and Polish hearts are found. Oh it’s imperative to know your heritage With Polish Youngstown, yes Polish Youngstown
Do you feel the inspiration, when you see the red and white? And the eagle, does it stir your Polish pride? When you hear the names Pulaski, Kosciusko and the like, Do you feel that Polish passion deep inside?
If you do, then heed this message; The mission’s crystal clear Let’s celebrate our culture once again. For all who came before us, let’s pledge to persevere. That Polish blood is flowing through our veins.”